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Gotcha Capitalism: How Hidden Fees Rip You Off Every Day-and What You Can Do About It Audible – Unabridged

4.1 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on January 7, 2008
Format: Paperback
Bob Sullivan has written an extraordinary and frightening book on what happens when technology makes it increasingly easy for corporations to rip consumers off, when the government fails to do a decent job of regulating those corporations, and when consumers aren't educated enough to make rational marketplace decisions.

Technology today gives us automatic teller machines, internet, wireless phones, cell phones, satellite and cable television, electronic bill payments, etc. etc. These gadgets and services are marketed as life simplifiers, and in many ways they are. But there are also hidden costs to using them that gouge the consumer. Sullivan's claim is that unless these hidden costs are recognized, consumers are prey rather than free agents. Hence the "gotcha."

ATM fees, for example, are almost never fully disclosed on the ATM screen. They average about $5 per pop--that is, you pay a good chunk of money to access your money. How bizarre is that? But bizarre as it is from the consumer's perspective, it's good business for the banks because service fees are major revenue sources for banks. These days, according to Sullivan, about one-third of all bank revenues come from fees. In fact, many banks now make more income from fees--checking account fees, bounced check fees, ATM fees, and so on--than from interest on loans and investments.

Or take credit cards. A credit card company can legally raise your interest rates simply by sending you a finely printed and obscurely written announcement informing you of the increase and stating that unless you formally object in writing, you accept it. The companies know that most consumers won't even bother to read the announcement before tossing it. In fact, they bank on it.

Or take hotels.
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Format: Paperback
Technology writer Bob Sullivan has compiled a powerful accounting of the various ways that American consumers are routinely being screwed by companies large and small. The driving force behind this explosion of unfair business practices is computer technology and the shift to an online/database economy: economic transactions are essentially invisible now, and it is much easier for profit-driven companies to simply make up a bunch of fees or "service charges" when no actual services are being provided, and tack them onto our already-expensive bills. Even that tiny fraction of consumers who figure out the scams will find it hard to get the bogus fees refunded, and the vast majority of consumers will either be unaware of how they're being ripped off, or will be too tired or busy to object.

Sullivan explains and documents with great clarity how companies have scientifically researched the most effective methods for hiding bogus fees, and what the tipping point are, so that they steal tiny amounts from millions of customers, but in ways that these customers either won't detect, or understand. And it doesn't matter if you catch one company ripping you off: they all do it, so there's really nowhere for consumers to turn. Don't like your cell phone company? Of course not, but is it worth it to drop them and go to another? Probably not, since they're all total crooks.

While this book does a great job cataloging these injustices, it leaves open the question of what we can actually do about it. The book promises readers that they can save $1000.00 if they know how to guard against various unfair business practices. What is really needed, however, is legal protection against these fraudulent and deceptive practices.
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Format: Paperback
I found Gotcha Capitalism to be really helpful, particularly the real-world anecdotes used to show how these fees happen to us every day. For example, after reading about the credit cards from department/furniture stores and the possibility of it appearing as though you don't have to pay interest, unless you read the mouse type. I immediately checked my statements, now that I know for what to look.

The information is very practical and useful in everyday situations.
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Format: Paperback
Besides informing us of the sneaky way companies try to get extra dollars out of us, there are also other eyeopening things we should know. One thing that got my attention was companies sending new contracts marketing them as "junk mail" so people couldn't call the company and say no thank you I do not accept this. Silence was golden. When challenged all the way up the Supreme Court, they found this contractually binding! Do not throw away your junk mail and read this book!!!!!!!!!!! there are soo many other things in here that you just have to read it.
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Format: Paperback
Sullivan tells readers how companies take advantage of us, focusing on 13 industries (credit cards, banks, cell phones - what's behind all those fees, getting out of "cell-phone jail," grocery stores, etc.)telling us how they do it and providing examples (including sample letters and phone scripts) of how to get your money back.

"Big deal," say some - "what's few dollars here and there?' Sullivan's independent researcher surveyed people and concluded the average was $964/year; "Consumer Reports" reported $4,000/family. So, it pays to pay attention to those asterisks, fine print, innocuous letters intended to obtain approval of contract changes w/o even reading, arcane/complex wording, and the signature line. (Sullivan reports an instance where buyers' unknowingly were also purchasing monthly credit insurance, failed to pay it, and racked up large late fees in addition.)

"Gotcha Capitalism" is also a good reference to wave at those contending "free markets cure everything."
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